Burma Election Is Test of Progress

Washington, D.C.

Burma’s April 1 by-elections are a crucial step toward assuring the international community that the country is making meaningful progress toward democratic reform. Freedom House welcomes the decision to allow foreign observers to monitor the election as a positive step toward safeguarding the transparency and legitimacy of the election process.  However, we remain concerned about reports of fraud and harassment in the lead up to elections, including the March 23 deportation of Somsri Hananuntasuk, executive director of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), a regional network of civil society organizations promoting democratization.

“The by-elections provide an opportunity to continue Burma’s recent improvements, but they are only a start in what should be a long-term plan by the government to implement reforms,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.  “Allowing monitors is a positive development, though the invitation came a bit late as they were unable to observe the campaign process and investigate reports of intimidation and manipulation.”

The 45 seats at stake in Burma represent less than 7 percent of all seats in parliament, and less than 10 percent of all elected seats. The by-elections thus do not threaten the ruling party’s grasp on power, which will remain secure until the next general election in 2015.  The military still occupies a quarter of all seats in parliament, as mandated by the constitution.

“The regime’s actions over the next three years, as it faces the prospect of ceding power to a civilian government, will reveal whether it is as committed to reform as it claims to be,” continued Kramer.

Burma has been included in Freedom House’s Worst of the Worst report for 27 of the last 38 years, placing it among the world’s most oppressive regimes.  Freedom House denounced Burma’s 2010 elections as fundamentally flawed.

There have been some signs of positive change in advance of the upcoming by-elections. The primary opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has agreed to participate in the by-elections after boycotting 2010’s election.  NLD’s participation signals public support for reforms put forward by President Thein Sein during the past year, including increased space for independent media and the release of more than 600 political prisoners in January 2012. However, serious concerns remain, including a number of political dissidents still in prison and ethnic minorities who continue to face violence and displacement. Moreover, while the Burmese government has promised democratic reforms in the past, it has repeatedly failed to deliver.

Burma is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2011.  

For more information on Burma, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Burma
Freedom of the Press 2011: Burma
Freedom on the Net 2011: Burma
Blog: Secretary Clinton’s Burma Opportunity

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